Friday, June 15, 2018

On Becoming Beloved Community


One day this week, Wayne clapped me on one shoulder and loudly claimed, “You should have run for mayor!” I laughed, and he then proclaimed, “No one can steal a stove!” To which I replied, “Or a refrigerator!” He clapped me on the shoulder again and said, “Exactly!” Last week, he had told me that he had been accused of stealing the refrigerator where he was staying.

I have known Wayne for most of the almost five years I have been working at Trinity Food Ministry in Saint Louis. Our relationship began as reactionary and tended to escalate quickly. He would come to the Pantry for groceries at least twice a month. The regulation is that a guest may get groceries once per calendar month. To get around that, he would claim that it wasn’t him who came the first time; it was his brother. I was fairly naive so it was allowed for a couple of months.

But then he became more belligerent and irritating, so I shut it down. I told him he had to prove who he was each time he came. I didn’t care who he was, but he had to show me if he wanted groceries.
In that he rarely had his ID, this caused him to be even more aggressive in his attitude. His eyes would narrow, he would “get his face on” and he would ready himself to scare me into backing down. I didn’t.

This went on for at least a couple of years. We had several shouting matches and stare-downs. Then, Wayne didn’t show up for a long while. As is the case on a normal basis, I wondered a few times about him but was too busy to search out an answer. Plus, the Pantry was quieter when he wasn’t there. It was easier.

By the time he returned, I was different. In that period where he was gone, I learned that a big problem with many people is that they do not know they are loved. Or they do not believe themselves lovable. When I saw Wayne return, I greeted him with an exclamation of not only surprise but of joy. I said, “Where have you been? I have missed you! I am glad to see you!”

He looked at me as if I was crazy. Yet his response was a smile. While it took him a few visits to believe me, he came to understand that things were different.

Wayne had not changed much in that time he was away. He still aggravated the bejeesus out of people. He continues to do so. But I have learned that when he narrows his eyes and his face appears to be confrontational, often, he is trying to figure out how to respond to the one causing his confusion. He can be lead away from confrontation by redirecting his attention.

I don’t kid myself. I know that out on the street he has a tough time. He has been put out of more places than I go into. He is classified as a problem and treated as such by most people who do not have the time or the desire to meet him where he is. His life is difficult.

I have watched his mental health decline over this past year. Most conversations are like the one with which I began this. His main themes include his father whom he loved, his high school years, and whether I have Spam or sardines to give him. Interspersed between these themes, a strange statement about refrigerators or stoves or me being mayor will be tossed in. For the most part, he knows he is safe at the Pantry and that I will listen to him for a little while. Somewhere during the conversation, we will laugh.

I would like to say that Wayne is the biggest problem at Pantry but he isn’t even close. But I have found the key to getting along with Wayne. It is to let him know he is loved and that he is worth my time. He knows this because I call him by name and tell him so. He is fed in body and in spirit. For a minute, it is enough.

I try to use that key with others but for some, addiction or mental health problems are just too much of a barrier. These problems filter out love.

Yet life continues.

There are so many things about each of us by which we can be judged daily, moment to moment. Too often, we judge in a flash, mistaking confusion for arrogance, taking one instance and identifying a person by that forever.

We are always beloved, regardless of our knowing this or not. When we get to know one another, when we listen to one another, when we see one another, and, in those actions, we learn that we are loveable and that we are loved. When we set aside our judgmental nature, we enter what Gregory Boyle says is God’s “jurisdiction.”

Within that God-place, we become Beloved Community. This is Jubilee.

Are we there yet? Are we even close? Maybe so, maybe not. For certain, we are closer than we have been.

Friday, March 30, 2018

"Left foot, left foot Right foot, right Feet in the morning Feet at night."


I am thinking about feet. My feet often demand that I think of them. Short wide feet with high insteps and high arches, my feet often scream for attention. But it’s not my feet that I am thinking about. I am thinking of the feet I washed last night.

I can’t tell you if the feet were in good condition or if these feet hurt. I can’t even tell you if the nails were painted. I know the feet were soft. I knew that I had to treat those feet as though they were beloved. Because those feet were beloved. Because those feet reminded me of other feet.

Blistered. Callused. Feet used for transporting a body everywhere that body needs to go. Feet that do not have clean socks every day. Feet that are covered in shoes that do not necessarily fit properly. Feet that are wet in rain, cold in winter, sweaty in summer. Imagine.

When I go to Sedona AZ, I walk a great deal. I hike to the vortexes, along the red dusty paths that lead to big red rocks. My black sandals are no longer black; my feet no longer tan. Both are covered in a fine red dust that does not brush away easily. This makes me think of what feet must have looked like in Jesus’ time. Dusty. Dirty. Tired. Responsible for carrying the weight of a person’s life upon them.

Feet are important. Between Tuesday and Thursday of this past week, I walked 25,935 steps, an average of 8,645 steps on each day. That was simply to and fro, back and forth, going nowhere but doing many things. (one of many privileges, my iPhone health app)

How many steps did Jesus walk between the beginning of his ministry in Galilee and that cross at Golgotha? Approximately 106 miles if one walks straight from Capernaum to Jerusalem, but he didn’t. He went into Samaria and crossed over into Judea beyond the Jordan and other points between here and there
.

Thinking of Jesus walking makes me think of some of the guys from the pantry I know who walk everywhere. Often they are walking to and fro, between one meal and the next, into one area and crossing over into and beyond another. I have seen their feet. I have given out a pair of socks and bandaids in a too meager attempt to ease the burden of those poor, sore feet. Swollen, red, painful.

I wished I had thought of these feet sooner. I wish I had washed these feet on Maundy Thursday. I wish I had warm water and soft towels, clean socks and more bandaids, lotion and soothing balms.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Eyes

“To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Not many of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness, dismissal, and judgmentalism. These are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

These words of Richard Rohr’s offer me a lesson I have opportunity to learn each day.
Recently, an incident reminded me that regardless of the job that I do, there is always so much more to alter in my own actions.

There is a guy who comes in to the pantry and hot lunch. He has no concern for anyone but himself. He pushes to the front of the line, demands attention regardless of whatever else is going on. He has no idea whatsoever that there are other people in the world with needs. His are his only concern. If I give him one pair of socks, he wants two. He always lifts his pants leg to show me he has no socks on, to prove his need. He doesn’t like the individual size toothpastes or deodorants. Nor the small hotel size soaps. He wants full size. And t-shirts. Always t-shirts. No matter how many belts I have given him over the past year, he always has a request for another. These requests come at least two days per week. He is pushy and demanding, cajoling and pleading, dependent upon how receptive I am to his requests. He tries to be charming by complimenting me in hopes that he can sway me. It is like dealing with a difficult child.

When he comes into the pantry, he leaves behind a mess.... dirty dishes, food crumbs/spills. He is a mess.

One Sunday, he came to the Hot Lunch...35 minutes after the official closing.
If we run out of food prior to that official closing, I open the pantry and retrieve Vienna sausages and any fruit or crackers we might have. It is not a fit meal but it fills the stomach for a while. However, when food is gone after the closing time, it is gone.

It is easy to understand that people who do not have watches or phones do not always know what time it is. It is just as easy to realize that bus schedules do not always fit into our timelines conveniently. I understand that some people are going to be late. It isn’t on purpose or because they are lazy or doing something more interesting. It just happens. Also, from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. is not a very large window of time.

So, when he came in so late this day, he was already irritated. Who knows why he was late. It didn’t matter. There was no prepared food left. As a result, I had to tell him he was too late. He knows that we have a full pantry and there is plenty of food in the building. He wanted me to get something for him. By that time, he was on my last nerve because he was demanding and rude. Actually, there are several people who can get on my last nerve rather quickly.

The thing is, regardless of how much he asks for, I always give him something. I try to err on the side of good. Maybe he sells the stuff; maybe he just likes what he likes. Who knows? I give if I have it to give with only an occasional exception.

However, when he is rude, demanding, and acting like a super spoiled brat, the mom in me comes out and I send him out of the room. So, this day he left angry. As he left, his bag caught on the door handle and that really ticked him off. He turned around and kicked the door. With all his irritation and his blustery bravado, he knew that he was past getting anything. He left, angry, frustrated, cold, and hungry.

It made me feel the same as when a situation sort of spun out of control for my kids or grand kids. I would be irritated and angry as they would escalate but later I would begin to think about how that particular child was feeling or what might have been the source of the outburst. The situation we witness is rarely the cause of the escalation.

I could have made one more exception for him. I could have opened the pantry and given him a couple of cans of ravioli. I could have, but I didn’t. I stood on my principle that he knows the routine, he was late, and I wasn’t budging. I am not looking for kudos for my “tough love.” I am exploring how I might have done this better, how I may have missed an opportunity to seek the divine. Rather, I judged harshly and most likely cast out a hungry person. I feel a bit of humiliation at understanding this.

Rohr finishes his meditation by writing that the “way to any universal idea is to proceed through a concrete encounter.” I am always seeking universal ideas. Rohr continues with “The one is the way to the many; the specific is the way to the spacious; the now is the way to the always, the here is the way to everywhere; the material is the way to the spiritual; the visible is the way to the invisible.”

I appeased my conscious a little bit the next time he came in by simply giving him a little more than he asked. It had been almost a week since he had tossed his tantrum and I pulled the mom card. I had what he requested so I gave. He, in turn, was appreciative.

But here is the rub. Do I, as manager of the Food Ministry, have a right to let my “mom” come out in me? How does that offer respect or dignity to an adult (or child, for that matter) if I pull a superior tone and/or condescending or give and take action?

I would rather be judged for giving too much than too little. What is given to the ministry is given with the idea that it will be available to those who need it. Is it mine to determine need? I know the answer to that is basically that all who come in are in need. So, yes, I do determine that there is need.

However, should the concern of having someone taking advantage of me weigh into the equation when a person is obviously in need. ‘In need of what’ is a question that I am not sure I have a right to ask. I cannot spend my time wondering if someone is trying to rip off the pantry. If someone does choose to sell the food they get, then perhaps that little bit of money was what he needed. It is not mine to determine what a person needs most.

What I seek is to make certain that my ego does not get in the way or try to be in control, mainly, that the moment does not control me. None of this is about me, should not be about me. It is about offering sustenance to those who come seeking nourishment. While limits must always be in place to ensure that there is enough for others also, when there is abundance, a portion of that abundance should be share.

Life is too short and hard to live out of our fears of scarcity.

It is important to see our habits and how these cause us to act in each moment. These concrete moments, the one, the specific, the now, the here, the material, the visible, offer insight into something so much larger than the me, the ego, the knee-jerk reaction. It offers an opportunity to open ourselves up to what Rohr calls “a fully sacramental universe where everything is an epiphany.”

I cannot live with the idea of being dismissive, judgmental, cynical, defensive, or fearful. These things make us mistrust the idea that Love is supreme and the only way to respond. These actions give us cause to justify our own reactions.

I want love to be my first response, and then every response following that. If someone takes advantage of my love, well, then, so be it. Love has the power to win over all else.



Quotes from “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation” Contemplative Consciousness, Awe and Surrender, January 12, 2018.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Blessings in Woundedness

I can’t tell you how many times I ask the question “How are you?” and receive the reply, “I am blest.” Often it is a woman who answers that way. Sometimes the men do. I have heard it said as in thanksgiving, as a reminder that within all the worry and sorrow, there are blessings. But sometimes, it is offered more as a challenge, almost as a dare to dispute it. I hear within that dare a pronouncement of “I AM WORTHY AND YOU BEST KNOW IT NOW.”

That most recent statement was declared by a man. He said, “I am blest by the grace of God who makes me whole.” It came with a sideways glance to see how I took the statement. There was a look of something that could not be noted as love on his face. There he was, a black man, taking what he considered to be charity from me, a white woman. He seemed belligerent, not angry, but definitely tired of the abuse of power, tired of the foot on his neck. I saw all of this in a short few seconds. I held out my hand to him and I said the first thing that came out of my mouth, “Thanks be to God” and I smiled. He shook my hand and nodded his head, keeping eye contact with me for the full shake. His eyes softened. I knew that the Spirit had given me the right words to say. She always does that, if I let her.

Being a healer doesn’t mean that a person can make a physical or mental sickness be gone. Poverty and all the things that go with it are still there in the morning. Yet, in the words of Becca Stevens, “Answering the call to become a healer means you are willing to experience empathetic pain and feel others’ brokenness.”

I saw the phoenix within that man. He was broken. He was wounded and tired. Yet he stood up by calling on the grace of God. He knew he was worthy because God told him so and that gave him the power to stand tall. Just because we are broken does not mean that we cannot rise up.

I am reading Becca Steven’s newest book, Snake Oil. Her writing always has a powerful effect on me but this one is touching the core of my being. It helped me understand a lot of my feelings.

There are some days when I am so exhausted, my heart hurts. I want to curl up and cry. I am so tired that I don’t even have the energy to question why God led me into this place. Yet, I wake up in the morning and I head out into a new day, not always totally refreshed but enough so that I am able to move back into the midst of the people.

The thing is this – woundedness is not something held aside just for people living in the struggle of poverty. It is something that can happen to all of us. Woundedness often is a part of an unconscious condition, an unresolved trauma that we thought we shook off.

Many people think that money is the answer. If I get enough money, all my worries will go away. Money can sometimes glitz up the cracks of brokenness yet the pain seeps through those crevices no matter how well concealed. Arrogance, belligerence, hatefulness, bullying, violence, fear, intimidation, even greed – all these acts can be the effects of woundedness. In this world of provocative language and actions, it is difficult to look for the provocateur’s pain.

Yet if we were able, if it became imperative for each of us to see, hear, taste, feel the pain behind the dare, behind the power, behind the false bravado, would we view the arrogant or belligerent person differently? Rather than reacting in anger, would it be easier for us to speak peace in the face of challenge? Would we be able to hear the Spirit as she gave us the words to heal the woundedness? Would that person be able to hear or feel the peace?

I often wonder how long I can continue to stretch the limits of my physical self. Yet, there is no time nor even the desire to ask whether I should continue. That is never the question. The real questions are how could I not continue? How could I live a life outside of that brokenness?

My own self has healed or at least, is in the process of healing. I rise up, just like that phoenix, just like that man, because I know that this is what God has told me to do. This thing I do is the way I offer myself, my story, my own wounded heart. It is this offering that people recognize and respond. What difference does it make in the long run? I don’t know. I only know that I recognize the recognition when I see it.


I will never stop asking people, “How are you?” I hope they never stop answering, “I am blest.” It tells me so much about the person.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

20th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 24 October 22, 2017


Last week God was very angry with Aaron and the people for making the golden calf to worship while Moses was on the mountain with God. The people were impatient. Maybe Moses had forgotten them. Or maybe God had. We do have a tendency to think that sort of thing when our prayers are not immediately answered in the way we want.

But they did it this time. God was ready to consume them all. Although Moses talked God out of destroying them, God was obviously still very irritated. In the passages between last Sunday and this one, God tells Moses to tell the people that a safe passage will be made for them to pass into the promised land but God will not go up among them, “lest I consume you in the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” 

But Moses, always willing to talk with God, to argue with God, to even calm God’s anger continues in today’s passage. “If you won’t go with me, who will you send?” God tells him that God’s presence will go with him. But Moses persists: “If your presence will not go with me, do not carry us up from here. For how will the people know that I and your people have found favor in your sight if you are not there?” Moses demands that God show him God’s glory. = not just the presence, but the glory – the visible radiance and majesty of the Godhead. 

God tells Moses that not only will the Radiance of the Divine Majesty be shown to Moses but God will proclaim the name “The LORD”.

“I Am Who I Am” was the name revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush when he asked “Who shall I tell them you are?” The actual name of God was so holy that it was not to be said. YHWH was too Holy; rather, the word Adonai (lord or master) or the words LORD or GOD was substituted.

Moses asked for a declaration of God’s presence and God responded not only by showing God’s glory but also proclaiming the name of God. To see God, even if only the back of God, to have the Holy Name proclaimed was an affirmation of Moses belonging to God, doing God’s will.

The Pharisees are a good example of a “stiff-necked people”. They were persistent in trying to entrap Jesus. Today, they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

Jesus’ answer? Give to Caesar what is his. Give to God what is God’s.

But did that answer anything? We are today still asking the questions:
What belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God?

Do we live in a world where our spiritual and secular lives are divided? To many, that answer is yes, yes we do. We have our church life and then we have the rest of our life.

It reminds me of the Prosperity Theology. The idea is that financial blessing/physical well being are the will of God for some people. If we do good, we are given good. Sickness and poverty are caused by lack of faith.

Are you sick? Are you poor? Obviously, your faith is lacking. The result of this thinking is that it keeps people from feeling empathy or compassion for those they do not know who are sick or poor – especially those who live in poverty. Any support offered is for the benefit of the giver more than the one receiving.

Prosperity Theology is a good example of the division between our spiritual and secular lives. God and Scriptures are used to get what the person wants, not spiritually but materially. That idea is the exact opposite of all the teachings of the Gospel, the Epistles, and the Hebrew texts. Scripture points to the idea that God uses the believer, not the other way around.

We can see that the Pharisees question is a political one meant to separate rather than to unite. They were trying to trap Jesus by his own words. His answer would either violate Jewish law or Roman law.

The Roman tax was one imposed upon all the Jews in Jerusalem. But on the coin of Rome was the head of the Emperor of Rome. The denarius had Caesar’s image on it and it also had an inscription calling the emperor the son of god. For a good Jew to carry this coin would have been idolatrous. But the tax had to be paid.

For most of us, if we don’t pay taxes, we can wind up following Jesus from a prison cell. It’s just reality, at least for those of us who can’t afford the loopholes. The same was true then. It was the law of the land.

But is that the main idea of this passage? Give to Caesar’s what belongs to Caesar?

Perhaps Jesus was saying give back to Caesars what is his. The NIV uses the term “give back” rather than simply give. Return it. You don’t need it. Give it back. That is a difficult idea for us to contemplate. How would we exist in a consumer market if we gave back all our money to our government?

Or is the second part more important? What does belong to God?

As I was reading and preparing for this sermon, I ran across an article from 2004 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow from the Shalom Center and he wrote about this passage from a Jewish point of view.

He told this story from the teachings of rabbis who were in the same time frame:
“Our Rabbis taught: Adam, the first human being, was created as a single person to show forth the greatness of the Ruler Who is beyond all Rulers, the Blessed Holy One. For if a human ruler [like Caesar] makes many coins from one mold, they all carry the same image, they all look the same. But the Blessed Holy One shaped all human beings in the Divine Image, as Adam was shaped in the Divine Image … "in the Image of God." And yet not one of them resembles another.
The very diversity of human faces shows forth the Unity and Infinity of God, whereas the uniformity of imperial coins makes clear the limitations on the power of an emperor.”

He said to read the Gospel story as it is written in Matthew. But then he retold the story adding one line and a simple gesture.

"Whose image is on this coin?" asks Jesus.
His questioner answers, "Caesar’s!"
Then Jesus puts his arm on the troublemaker’s shoulder and asks, "And Whose Image is on this coin?"
Perhaps the troublemaker mutters an answer; perhaps he does not need to. Not till after this exchange does Jesus say, "Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods."
Jesus purpose was not to divide the material and spiritual. He was simply saying look at the coin. Does it reflect the image of God?

What then, if we remember that the first human – adam – was made in the image of God and as a result, we all are made in that image of God?      How does that affect our understanding of “Give to God what is God’s?”

What if Jesus is calling us to be active in our understanding of our sacred diversity, of the many ways in which God’s image is offered to us? What if, as the Rabbi suggests, that we are being called to not only look at but affirm our differences even as Caesar “tries to reduce us to uniformity?”

“The very diversity of human faces shows forth the Unity and Infinity of God...”

Look at one another. Look around the room. See the diversity of our faces. Understand it is the divine diversity of the image of God. In that image, there is a Oneness, in spite of the diversity, simply because we all are in that image of God.

What if Jesus is calling us to a deeper understanding that we are called to a more profound commitment to follow God? A radical understanding of belonging to God? Like Moses. What about an even more radical understanding that we belong to one another simply because we love God, God loves us, therefore we love one another with all our differences? Not in spite of but because of those differences?

Giving to Caesar’s what is his suggests that we all act the same as Caesar, think the same, even in our religious practices. But, giving to God what is God’s is understanding that there are many differences with only one sameness – and that is, God.

When we expect all to conform to an idea, a belief, a practice we hold as our own, or a race we are, we open the room to division, not unity. Because that division makes it into Us and Them.

To be divided because of differences is more closely in line with following Caesar as if Caesar was truly the son of god. And that is a total subversion of Jesus’ intention.

To fear another because we do not recognize our own self within that other one is to fully profane the idea of God. It is not our own likeness that we should seek.

It is no wonder that God was so angry and put out with the people of Israel that the only thought was to consume them. How many times throughout history has God wanted to consume the human race, even as it is made in God’s own image? We are a stiff-necked people, prone to our projections of grandeur, our sense of self-righteousness, our pronouncements of superiority. We are stubborn and selfish, greedy and impatient. We are weak and yes, we are stupid. Too often we practice our religion as though we think that if we pray enough or give enough or give a little to the poor that we will be rewarded with wealth and good things.

There is a major faultline in that thinking. It threatens to destroy all for which we yearn. That Peace which passes all understanding does not come to us through material wealth. Peace as we desire it – that is, trouble leaving us – does not belong to those of us in this Christian faith. Wealth does not either, for that matter. Moses certainly had little peace or wealth. Neither did Jesus. We are not told to go and reap the harvest and save it for ourselves in case we need it later. We are told to give, then give more. We are told to love, and then love more. And then we are told to love even more.

Some might call it irresponsible to preach these words. What if someone gives all that they have to poor Joe standing by the highway and then that person has nothing left to live on?  Should we do that? I cannot say.

I obviously have not.

But I pray for those who have no home, or are underhoused. I pray for those who are hungry. I work towards righting those injustices that cause people to be without their basic needs being met. I try to remember that words and actions matter. I know we can’t just show up. We have to DO. So I do.

Most of all, I remember that today, I am living in the kingdom of God. Now. Right now. I belong to God, I yearn for God. All I am is for God. Therefore, all my actions have to reflect that. I don’t always succeed but I try. Is that enough? I hope so.

As we gather at this table, to be One in the body of Christ, we do so as individuals made in the image of God called into being with one another and with God. And then we will go out in the name of the Most High and Holy One into the world, as individuals made in the image of God to be with others made in that Divine Image to do the work of that Divine One.

Give to God what is God’s. Remember that we are to love God above all other things, first and foremost and lastly. Remember that we are to love one another as God loves us. And just as importantly, remember that you are loved by the One in whose image you are created.

Give to God what is God’s.


Amen.


God & Caesar: The Image on the Coin, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 10/6/2004
https://theshalomcenter.org/content/god-caesar-image-coin                                       

Saturday, October 07, 2017

If I Were Preaching Tomorrow...

Year A
Proper 22
RCL

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 Psalm 19 Philippians 3:4b-14 Matthew 21:33-46

If I were preaching tomorrow then I would have to say that last Sunday, the Ten Commandments were violently violated.

We have taken the 2nd Amendment which states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

   and made it into a god. It has become more important than the lives that are destroyed by one who has been given the right “to keep and bear arms.” That right is more important than people gathered in a movie theatre, than children in a high school, than children in an elementary school, than people gathered in a church for bible study, than people at a night club, than people at a concert…that right for a few has become more important than the lives of innocent people doing nothing but studying, praying, singing, dancing, enjoying life. That right shall not be infringed by the rights of others to live, love, and pursue happiness.

These weapons have become idols, false idols that have directed attention away from God alone.

In my wrath, I have used God’s name to curse those who hold the power to do something yet do nothing to save us from this violent onslaught. I am sure I am not alone.

This most recent tragedy happened on a day we set aside as a day of worship. Yes, I know that many of us are no longer thinking of church or God by the time of day that this happened, nonetheless, it was Sunday. Regardless, this was an unholy act. God created all the days. Each one is holy.

Mothers and fathers were not honored. They were slaughtered. Their children were cut down.

Murder was committed. Mass murder. 

Perhaps there was no adultery committed. But if we think in terms of cheating, unfaithfulness, there were those things committed.

Lives were drained. The future was stolen. Health was robbed. Innocence was stripped away. The illusion of peace was shattered.

Lies have been told about the necessity for weapons. Falsehoods have been propagated to make people think they have a right to carry a semi-automatic weapon. False witness has been borne against all the victims of violent weapons allowing too many to think they are safe in a culture that worships rapid-fire weapons capable of mutilating almost 600 people in under ten minutes.

Lives were coveted so much so that one person took 58 of them, 59 when we remember he took his own. Many of those lives were lived in love. Perhaps it was the love he coveted.
Is God testing us, attempting to stop our idolatry by scaring the sin out of us?

If I were preaching tomorrow, I would have to wonder about the Gospel of Matthew. Not about tenants necessarily but about the idea that once again we have rejected the stone that should be our cornerstone.

It is easy to say that this is not about ME. I am not for irresponsible gun ownership. I am not for all who wish to have an assault rifle. I am not rejecting the cornerstone!

But I wonder…am I producing fruit of the kingdom? Am I likely to fall on this stone and be broken into pieces? Will I be crushed by it or cause another to be so? What can I do to change the culture? How can I, little old me, do anything that will change this culture of violence that we worship as if it has known us since before we were born; while we were in our mother’s womb, as if it knew the number of hairs on our heads, as if it loved us as only God can?


I think I am glad I am not preaching tomorrow. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sermon offered at St. Paul's Carondelet, Proper 15, Year A

Can you begin to imagine being despised so much that your own brothers would throw you into a pit with the thought of killing you? Or that you could be sold into slavery because of that fear, jealousy, hatred?

Joseph was obviously a very special person because throughout his ordeal, he kept his faith, his belief that all things would be well, eventually. Regardless of how dire the immediate moment appeared, there remained a faith that God was always with him. And he, of course, was right. Joseph’s dreams had shown him the bigger picture. Anger or retaliation against his brothers had no place in the end. His brothers were simply a vehicle to get him started on his journey. He had a job to do and those things he went through were simply a part of it.

Matthew’s gospel reading has the Pharisees and scribes criticizing the disciples because they did not wash their hands before they ate. This was not because they were concerned about germs; it was about the purity laws.

Purity symbolizes holiness. The Jews believed that God was holy and pure and people were not naturally so. The purpose for the laws was to give them a starting point, a way to learn how to be pure for God, a rule book, if you will. It was to guide them, to get them started on their journey towards God.

Jesus said that it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean.
Jesus told the critics that they were hypocrites, honoring God with their lips but their hearts were far away. Their actions and their words did not match. Jesus was trying to tell them that they were too focused on human rules. Human rules/laws are often tools used for exclusion.

Jesus said what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. The words we use are important. These tell others what kind of a person we are – through and through. As people speak, they give hints into their inner most thoughts.

We know the big things that make us unclean – murder, violence, and all crimes against other humans. We know the rules. Break these rules and we can go to prison – some of us far easier than others. However, just because we don’t kill or maim others does not mean that our hearts are pure.

It is not what we eat or unwashed hands that makes us unclean. Our words…our actions defile us. Words of hate, actions of violence…these things make us unclean.

There has been an urgency in the gospel parables over the past few weeks. Jesus is on a mission, trying to help the Jews and the disciples understand that life as they know it is about to change dramatically.

His message is about Transformation. The way of life as they know it being turned upside down and all around. Sowing seeds of the kingdom so that it grows and flourishes. Hiding yeast in the midst of life so that there is disruption of all that is known.

Human rules trap us into thinking that change is not a good thing. And that causes fear. Fear causes us to hold on tight to those things we know. Love is sacrificed for the sake of remaining the same.

There is an urgency in our lives today as well. I believe that is what happened this past week in Charlottesville. The White Supremists do not understand that God’s love is big enough for all of us, that the Word is for all of us, regardless of how we worship, the color of our skin, our gender identity, our marriages. God’s love is bigger than our human imaginations.

Jesus is the change.

Jesus is the remedy to the ills that inflict humans. His death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit deals with the wickedness that taints humans. Purity laws are unnecessary.

Jesus as the remedy has to be applied to the dis-ease deep inside us so that we can understand the idea of being pure in God – through and through.

There is an ugly stain that runs throughout the history of humans. 
Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.
Native Americans. Slavery of Africans. 
Turkish massacre of Armenians. 
Nazis and Jews. Japanese Americans. 
South Africa and apartheid. 
Rwanda. Bosnia and Croatia.
Mexicans/South Americans, Muslims, the Sudan.

Ethnic Cleansing -- a term that is relatively new although the practice is old. The definition is this: an attempt by one ethnic group to get rid of members of an unwanted ethnic group by deportation, displacement or mass killing. What is going on now in the US is Ethnic Cleansing. Do not be fooled. The deportation of those considered unworthy of being in the US. Families being split apart. Children brought to the US as babies yet deported to Mexico as young adults. I know people who have generations of family born in the US but carry their passports with them to prove their citizenship out of fear of being stopped and deported. The new rule is deport first, ask question later.

The White Nationalists hatred of Jews, Blacks, LGBT people – mainly, anyone different than how they perceive themselves to be. They see no humanity in those who are different from themselves – mainly white males. All others are just that – “Other”. Less than. Not worthy. Unwanted. Unnecessary. Violence is one answer to the elimination of these.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls it the “stain of bigotry.”

Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund writes:
There are not two sides to Nazism. There are not two sides to White supremacism, bigotry, and racial and religious hatred and intolerance. Heather Heyer – a nonviolent protester against racial intolerance – is not as much at fault as the man who violently and deliberately hit and killed her with his car on a Charlottesville street.

The Jews considered Canaanites unclean. They did not observe the same rites. And here was this unclean woman chasing after Jesus, calling out to him, demanding that he do something for her. The disciples knew the rules. They wanted Jesus to tell her to go away.

But he didn’t. He stopped to listen. She came to him, begging him, calling him the Son of David, and saying, “my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 

Jesus knew his mission. To help the Jews understand that God was in the midst of fulfilling a promise. The Kingdom of Heaven was beginning and they needed to understand quickly that Jesus was that kingdom. It was important that the Jews hear this message first. So, Jesus tells the woman, “I am sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The people of Israel were supposed to be the ones sharing the message…after they understood it. But she continued, believing so strongly that she knelt in front of him and said, “Lord, help me.” Jesus told her that it would not be fair to take the food from the children and give it to the dogs. Nevertheless, she persisted. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

She understood so much more than the disciples or the people of Israel. She knew that Jesus was the messiah, the Son of David, the one that was promised was here. She already understood the Easter message and it had not even happened yet. This unclean woman knew. And Jesus recognized that. Great is your faith! He said. And her daughter was healed. He could have walked away. But he didn’t. Not only did he listen but he realized that she was right.

We get so caught up in rules – it is difficult for us to realize that the Kingdom of heaven has only two rules. Love God. Love one another.

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I was like this woman. I was at my wit’s end. I had nowhere to turn. In my office at work, I could not concentrate. I could not work. I could not even pray, at least not in the way I thought of prayer. In reality, my mind was desperately ranting at God, begging for help. My daughter was in trouble and I had no way of helping her. I did not even realize the extent of the problems that had hold of her. I knew only that she was in trouble. I picked up a little green Gideon’s Bible – I had no idea where it had come from but it was there. I randomly opened the little bible and it fell on this passage. Actually it could have been the Mark version, I don’t remember. Regardless, I realized as I read this random passage that I was being offered a vision into the future. A glimpse into the kingdom of heaven. I had no idea of what was to come or when it was coming but I knew that something had shifted just a little bit and I realized that there was change coming. And I also knew that it was good. Where there had been a hopelessness, a ray of hope had been illuminated.

I would like to tell of a miracle that happened that day and all manner of things were made well immediately but that, of course, reminds us that our time is not God’s time. It is a long journey from woundedness to healing and the scars run deep. But on that day, I saw something more than I had seen before. And I held on tightly to that vision. And the good news today is that my daughter is healing. And I am so proud of her.

I wonder if the Pharisees and disciples perceived a slight twist – a glimpse into the kingdom of heaven, a vision of things to come when Jesus talked about rules? or when the woman was talking? It was made more real in the Caananite woman’s life because she believed so strongly in that kingdom regardless of whether she had heard the message or not. She knew it in her heart and it came out in her words.

The theologian NT Wright writes:
“Being a Christian in the world today often focuses on the faith that badgers and harries God in prayer to do, now, already, what others are content to wait for in the future.” We cannot be content to wait.

We must continue to pray for a stop to the injustices of the world, the bigotry, the hatred because of “Otherness” - the color of skin or ethnicity or gender or religion, the wars, the violence. We pray that those who are afraid will be made well in their affliction. We pray that we will understand that Jesus came to change things, to disrupt our understanding of the here and now and to lead us into the kingdom of heaven. We pray that we will claim God’s promises today with a faith that will not be put off.

What little shift or twist do we feel in our lives that lead us to a new understanding that the Kingdom is here, now, today.  We have a role to play today in the midst of this unrest and dis-ease. The time for standing on the sidelines as spectators – if there was ever a time – is past. We are players in this kingdom of heaven. We are the hands and feet of Christ and there is a message to be delivered and love to share. We are being made new every day. We have all that we need to move forward.

I read a post on Facebook yesterday. It is actually a dismissal prayer; however, I think it fits as a beginning for this new day.

May God bless us with discomfort. Discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our heart.

May God bless us with anger. Anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears. Tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

May God bless us with foolishness. Enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

As we gather at that table, ponder this: what new thing is God making for us and through us…and how will we respond?


Amen